Virtues, Vices and Heroics

Thorne Moore

True to my policy of always bringing Jane Austen into any post if I can, our Jane once suggested, when writing Emma, that she was creating a heroine whom no one would like except herself. Oddly, although many readers might find Emma’s snobbery rather ridiculous, they don’t mind her at all. The Austen heroine that everyone finds very difficult to like is Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, the unspeakably virtuous girl for whom Jane Austen had a special affection – although I wish she hadn’t referred to her as “my Fanny.”

The question is, does the protagonist in a novel have to be likeable? I want to be able to inhabit my main characters and understand why they think, say, do what they do, even if they are not people I would like to spend an evening with. I need to empathise without necessarily sympathising. It isn’t their…

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